One of my favorite lessons to teach this year was the Companion Poem.  I based the lesson idea loosely on William Blake’s companion poems from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  In these two books Blake included some poems by the same title and generally about the same topic, but written from different perspectives.  The narrator in Songs of Innocence typically speaks from a place of lighthearted joy and youthful vigor.  The narrator in Songs of Experience usually speaks from a place of maturity and caution.  Here is an example of a “nurse” who is supervising children who refuse to go home at sundown because they are having too much fun laughing and playing in the fields.  In the first poem the nurse shares their joy; in the second poem she thinks they are wasting time.

Nurse’s Song

When the voices of children are heard on the green,

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My heart is at rest within my breast,

And everything else is still.”

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,

And the dews of night arise;

Come, come, leave off play, and let us away

Till the morning appears in the skies.”

“No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,

And we cannot go to sleep;

Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,

And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.”

“Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,

And then go home to bed.”

The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d

And all the hills ecchoed.

Nurse’s Song

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And whisp’rings are in the dale,

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind.

My face turns green and pale.

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,

And the dews of night arise;

Your spring & your day are wasted in play,

And your winter and night in disguise.

It is fun for children to think about an event from two different perspectives.  The companion poem gives them the chance to do just that.

It is also possible to provide broader guidelines for this lesson and explain that companion poems don’t have to be written by the same person nor do they have to explore a contrary point of view.  One poem might be paired with another poem based on the shape of the poem, the length of the poem, the language of the poem, the point of view of the poem, the theme of the poem, or some of other point of connection.  If I use this broader interpretation, I am never disappointed.  The kids like it because there are plenty of choices involved, and I love the diversity of poems produced.

To set up this lesson, just hand out a page with 5-7 poems on it, different styles, different authors, different topics.  The students pick one that they like and cut it out.  They glue it to a piece of colored construction paper.  At the top of the paper they write the words Companion Poems. Then the students write a companion poem on notebook paper, cut it out and glue it next to the other.  It is easy to display these poems in the classroom.

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